Getting our kids outdoors

Young Children’s Contributions to Sustainability: The Influence of Nature Play on Curiosity, Executive Function Skills, Creative Thinking, and Resilience


Environmental education for young children has great potential for fostering the skills, values, and dispositions that support sustainability. While North American guidelines emphasize the importance of using the natural world for open-ended exploration, discovery, and play, this approach has been criticized for lacking the transformative power necessary for meaningfully contributing to sustainability issues. Four pilot studies were conducted exploring the influence of nature play in the context of nature preschools on children’s curiosity, executive function skills, creative thinking, and resilience. These studies used established quantitative instruments to measure growth in these constructs among nature preschool participants, comparing this growth with participants in high quality, play-based, non-nature preschools. The results suggest a positive contribution of nature play, with greater levels of curiosity, creative thinking, and resilience than what was observed in the non-nature preschool participants, and executive function skills similar to the non-nature preschool participants and exceeding national norms. Collectively, these pilot studies suggest the potential contribution of nature play in the context of education for sustainability.

Julie Ernst 1, Applied Human Sciences, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, MN 55812, USA
Firdevs Burcak, Hasan Ali Yucel Faculty of Education, Department of Early Childhood

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